September is IC awareness month. Each year, IC Awareness Month is developed by you, the IC patient. Why? Because IC patients have a LOT to give. You have fresh, creative ideas that are relevant to IC patients. You understand implicitly why its so important to educate not only physicians but employers and community members about IC and pelvic pain. You know what it’s like to fight back when your rights have been threatened. You've also shared the struggle of trying to pay for expensive treatments. You have the passion, the drive and the motivation to make change in the world. By educating others, we can and will make a difference.
It’s time to put the committee together for 2015. Will you help?
(1) Contest organizer & judges to manage our IC Awareness Month poster and art campaigns
(2) Media/Press specialists to develop our media campaign and press materials
(3) Writers to develop stories related to IC
(4) Techies to develop/implement relevant fun activities and/or apps on our website or social networking platforms
(5) Social Networking Guru’s to develop our internet campaign.
(6) Interested, passionate patients who want to help
When:The committee generally works from July through September. Some may only contribute a few hours while others may choose to be more involved on a weekly basis. It is entirely your choice. The gift of your time is greatly appreciated!
Sign Up!If you’d like to get involved and serve on our committee, please send an email with your name, interest (i.e. role you’d like to fill), phone number and best email address at: firstname.lastname@example.org
So to recap:
The amount of danger signals that are sent up to the brain
The level of threat that is perceived by the brain
= The amount of pain we experience
In the context of chronic pelvic pain, the brain either perceives safety or danger. The more it perceives danger, the more pain we experience. It is important to note that chronic pain is not prolonged acute pain. "Chronic Pain" is the result of our brain interpreting signals through our nervous system, commonly long after the actual tissue damage has healed.
Triggers of these signals in the pelvic region can include one or more of the following:
1. Functional Systems (bladder, bowel, uterus, prostate in male pelvic pain)
2. Structural Systems (muscles and ligaments, often in spasm)
3. Nerves firing (causing tingling, burning, itching, dryness, aching, or even stabbing of surface tissues)
All of the signals from these triggers add up in our memories, emotions, and thoughts. These signals are also called "generators". When generators are sent up to the brain, the brain responds by sending down corresponding inhibitors. For example, when we stub our toe it really hurts for a couple of seconds! Until our inhibitors take over. Our brain immediately tells us that by all of our previous experiences, stubbing our toe is not dangerous. So the pain quickly fades away.
But with chronic pain, the generators outweigh the inhibitors and the volume of our nervous system gets "turned up". Over time, the nervous system responds more and more strongly to a smaller amount of signals. This is one reason why sensitivity related to the external genitals and pelvic floor, for example, can increase over time when not treated and managed properly.
The more we understand what is going on in the body, how pain is processed, and the more "tools" we have to temper these signals and how they are reacted to in the brain, the more we are likely to reduce the pain or "turn the volume dial down". Focused training can help us guide us in the process. These tools include: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, diaphragmatic breathing techniques, and physical therapy. As well as other disciplines like medicine, psychological counseling, nutrition and dietary changes, yoga, and massage.
Pain is the alarm system in the body. So called acute pain is essential to our survival. We need to know that we have injured ourselves so that we can be properly warned and instantly make moves to protect ourselves. Signals from the injured area travel through our nervous system to our brain and trigger the alarms to go off. This happens instantaneously but it's not as simple as it sounds.
When signals from all the senses and from all parts of the body travel toward the brain they are influenced along the way at various levels of the nervous system before being processed and interpreted. For instance, we will feel a twist of our ankle in different ways under different circumstances because the "pain" signal travels to parts of the brain where previous experiences, memory, and knowledge about our bodies are stored. Think of it this way: If you trip on a curb and sprain your ankle will you feel pain? Yes. But if you sprain your ankle and you have a big bus coming at you will you feel pain? Probably not. Not until you've moved out of the way of the bus and are safe again.
Recollections of all our senses including sights, sounds, touch, smells, and tastes are stored indefinitely in many locations in our nervous system and ultimately all of our ongoing experiences are therefore processed and interpreted by a vibrant and constantly changing network of connected combinations called "neurotags" that together form the overall concept known as the "neuromatrix". The neuromatrix can be conceptualized by functional MRI images. We can see all the different parts of the brain that light up in different colors and locations when there are signals and triggers being set off both from inside the body and from the outside environment. The nervous system is constantly checking in with the neuromatrix to decide how to react in any given situation, almost always to protect us.
So, this neuromatrix of ours allows us to give variable meanings to pain and suffering - commonly determined by the accumulation of our past experiences (those that we remember and those that we do not remember) as well as our acquired beliefs, thoughts we focus on throughout the day, our emotional state, and our overall understanding and perception of the situation. Think again of spraining your ankle when you have a big bus coming toward you. You won't feel the pain of your ankle until you are out of the way of the bus. This is the neuromatrix at work. It perceives what is going on around us and determines what is more "dangerous" in the present moment.
It is important to keep in mind that our brain's perception is not always accurate and not always in our control. How do these concepts help us understand chronic pain in the context of pelvic pain? To be continued...
Stephanie Yeager: Passionate about spreading the word of hope and healing for those like her, influencing a paradigm shift in the medical community toward greater understanding of chronic pelvic pain disorders, and prevention initiatives that may protect young women before onset can occur.